The Dictator’s Shadow: Life Under Pinochet, a memoir of dictatorship and exile and their long aftermath in Chile, has won the second annual WOLA-Duke Book Award for Human Rights in Latin America, WOLA and Duke University announced today.
The author of the winning book, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, will receive a $1,000 cash award and an invitation to receive the prize at WOLA’s headquarters later this year, as well as an invitation to give a reading at Duke University in Durham, N.C.
WOLA, the human rights research and advocacy group established in 1974, and Duke University created the prize to honor the best current, non-fiction book published in English on human rights, democracy and social justice in contemporary Latin America.
Muñoz’s book, published by Basic Books, explores Augusto Pinochet’s legacy of violence and corruption from a uniquely personal perspective. The author, currently Chile’s ambassador to the United Nations, was imprisoned and exiled by the Pinochet regime because of his political views and, in this poignant and wide-ranging memoir, recounts how Chileans brought the former dictator to account for some of his crimes right until his death in 2006.
The four judges in this year’s competition were:
Holly Ackerman, Librarian for Latin America and Iberia, Duke University
Roger Atwood, Writer and former Communications Director, WOLA
Richard Feinberg, Professor, Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, University of California, San Diego
Robin Kirk, Executive Director, Duke Human Rights Center
The judges’ praise for Muñoz’s book focused on the eloquence with which it describes the dictatorship’s effects on Chilean society and brings the Pinochet narrative into the present, with its detailed account of Pinochet’s legal problems long after he had left power.
The book “broadens the cast of characters for people who may know only the broad strokes of the Chilean tragedy,” said Ackerman. “Muñoz explains Pinochet’s capacity for evil as the opportunism of a not-particularly-bright military careerist endowed with patience and intuitive cunning but lacking the common human need for friendship and affection. He could give genocidal orders and follow them unimpeded by empathy or ethical qualms.”
Atwood praised Munoz for “connecting the past to the present, and the political to the personal, in ways that are absorbing and original. He shows how Pinochet’s expectation of impunity and sense of entitlement outlasted his rule, with the phony medical reasons for escaping extradition to Spain and his secret bank accounts, and how this contributed to Chile’s turn against the whole authoritarian temptation.”
In creating this award, WOLA and Duke University hope to draw the general public’s attention to good writing on contemporary Latin America. Francisco Goldman won the first award last year for his book The Art of Political Murder and, in Muñoz’s book, the judges have found a worthy successor.
WOLA and Duke University have had other cooperative ventures in the past. Under an agreement signed in January 2008, WOLA donated its inactive archives dating back to the organization’s founding to the Archive for Human Rights at Duke Libraries and will continue to donate its inactive archives to Duke on a rolling basis.